Netherlands wants to fine under-age drinkers

In a bid to combat the problem of teen drinking, the Dutch cabinet approved a bill Friday proposing that under-16s caught consuming alcohol in public can be fined.

"Research has shown that too much alcohol causes serious damage to the brains and other organs of young people," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists in The Hague after the weekly cabinet meeting.

He said the cabinet had agreed to send the bill to parliament for approval.

In a press statement, the cabinet said it should become punishable for children under 16 to have alcohol on their person in public places like train stations, shopping centres, cafes and bars, or on the street.

"The cabinet wants children to bear more responsibility for compliance with the age restriction" that makes it illegal to sell alcohol to children under 16 and hard liquor to under-18s.

Annette Dijkstra, a spokeswoman for the ministry of public health, told AFP the bill states that a fine can be imposed but the amount "has yet to be determined".

Research published last December by the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction (Trimbos) and the University of Utrecht, found that nearly one third of pupils in the final year of primary school (11- to 12-year-olds) have consumed alcohol.

Nearly half of 16-year-olds have been drunk, said the report.

Of all the children interviewed for the study, 12 percent of boys and seven percent of girls who drank in the previous month reported having consumed more than 10 glasses on one day.

"Children are drinking more, more often, at an ever younger age, according to the study.

The latest report of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, said the volume of alcohol consumed by Dutch teenagers was "somewhat above average".

Trimbos spokeswoman Anke Wammes told AFP the institute was against the "criminalisation" envisaged in the bill "because it will lead to massive round-ups of young people".

"Instead of merely a fine, we would like to see an approach where a child is brought to a professional for a discussion that also involves his or her parents."

The World Health Organisation warned Friday that too few countries were taking steps to prevent alcohol abuse and raised alarm bells over major increases in alcohol consumption in Africa and Asia.